State Regulation of Frac Sand Mining

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) this week denied a rulemaking petition by opponents of silica sand mining in western and northern Wisconsin. The same day it denied the rulemaking request, the DNR issued a comprehensive Silica Sand Mining Study.

Sand mining is becoming increasingly more common in Wisconsin due to a surge in hydrofracking (commonly referred to as “fracking”), a technique used by the petroleum industry to extract natural gas and crude oil from underground rock formations.

Those opposed to sand mining in Wisconsin petitioned DNR in November 2011 requesting the Department promulgate rules governing silica sand mining to address concerns with alleged health and environmental effects. Specifically, the petition asked DNR to regulate Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) as a hazardous air pollutant (HAP).

In its decision denying the rulemaking petition, DNR explained that if a certain type of air pollutant is not regulated under federal law, the Department may only create an emission standard if first it finds that the standard is needed to protect the public health or welfare. The DNR explained that RCS is not currently regulated under federal law.

Moreover, the DNR concluded that based on its recent Silica Sand Study, it could not make such a finding that warrants the Department to grant the rulemaking petition. The DNR explained that it worked with officials from the Department of Health Services, who concluded there is “no published evidence of health effects from intermittent or occasional off-site exposures to people living near sand mining operations.”

The DNR further determined that current particulate matter administrative rules “provide adequate regulatory authority to protect public health and welfare.”

This post, which originally appeared on the Great Lakes Legal Foundation Blog, was authored by Andrew Cook.